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ARA Trees

Looking for trees in Johannesburg

During two months of an ARA (Arts Research Africa) residency I am looking to meet remarkable and unremarkable trees in Johannesburg, perhaps in order to perform for camera with them, and possibly also to record their stories in some manner. After only two days in this huge city filled with trees, both native and imported, most of them completely unfamiliar to me, I had already encountered some stories or details to begin with.

The streets in the neighbourhood I am housed in are lined with trees, including the famous Jacaranda trees from Argentina, and also plane trees, which look like London planes. Some of them are marked with huge white crosses, and my assistant Samuel explained that they are marked for treatment because they have been infested by a borer beetle or “polyphagous shot hole borer (PSHB),” which will slowly kill them. It seems that the area is one of the most affected in the city. See news article here. And the borer has spread all over the country, attacking various kinds of trees, see here and here. The Jacarandas seem to be less vulnerable, though.

Around Zoo lake, a nearby park created on former marshland, I saw beautiful old Willow trees, which have been planted there and are now causing controversy, because they consume a lot of water, poor drunkards. And in the garden of the house I live in there are two plum trees, an almond tree and a huge old oak tree, which was brought from Ireland in the beginning of 1900. That was the first tree I began performing with, simply standing next to it in a simple yoga pose “becoming a tree”. I am creating a small diary together with, documented here.

Now, when almost two weeks have passed since my arrival I am happy to report that the first completed video of a meeting with a tree called Myer’s Oak (10 min.) was recorded in Paterson Park on 17 February. It is rather different from my usual meetings with trees because the person presenting the tree to me, my hos Myer Taub, is the performer, not me, and because there is a voice-over text recorded in the same place, where he recounts his choice, added to the video. The video is presented on this blog, too, under ARA, here, and can be viewed in full online, together with other (future) ARA-trees, here.

On the same day in the same park I also made an attempt at performing with an Ombú tree, a strange tree imported from South America, with a trunk extended on the ground in a way that makes it easy to climb into. Samuel was keeping an eye on the camera on tripod, and noticed some boys being too interested in it, so we left the place. The rather short performance or pose, as well as a version with Samuel recounting his experience, are available on the same page with theARA-trees, here.

Anyway, this was only the beginning. I hope to be introduced to many other remarkable, unremarkable or in some way interesting trees in the coming weeks.

By Annette Arlander

One reply on “Looking for trees in Johannesburg”

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